My wife and I recently completed a driving vacation down the California coast which included an overnight stop in San Simeon where we visited Hearst Castle. Each of us had been there separately as children, but clearly our appreciation of this architectural gem and the vision of William Randolph Hearst is much greater with a bit of seasoning over the years. Having designed, built and remodeled a couple very modest houses ourselves, we found it amazing to see what Hearst and his Architect Julia Morgan accomplished over 28 years that they collaborated on this property. There is a very well done movie in the visitor center which covers Hearst’s life and the influences that lead to his personal attachment to and vision for this estate as well as his close working relationship over several decades with Julia Morgan. Full of quite a few old home movies, it’s just a great chance to learn about their creative working process in addition to the history of the property. This often involved tearing down and rebuilding many aspects of the project as well as designing to complement and feature the amazing, historical pieces of art, furniture and architectural treatments imported from throughout Europe.
During our overnight we lodged at The Morgan at San Simeon, decorated throughout with an amazing collection of her original architectural design renderings for many aspects of the Castle. Almost all of these were done in graphite and colored pencil. This collection represents a remarkable exhibition of art and has strengthened my own interest in historical architecture and the use of pencil as a creative medium in this trade. I’ve shared a few of my photos of the Morgan drawings here. Amazing details down to the designs of the stair risers all around the property, and untold design features throughout. The bottom of each print includes a description of the item and the inscription “Mr. W. R. Hearst San Simeon, Julia Morgan, Architect” along with the date of the drawing, all in pencil. The one photo of the property I included below demonstrates how the tile risers become an integrative component of the overall architectural design.
Julia Morgan’s story is a fascinating tale of one of America’s first leading female architects. Graduating in 1894 as Civil Engineering student from University of California, Berkley she was the first woman to be accepted and graduate with a degree in architecture from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Returning to San Francisco and employed by John Galen Howard, who was responsible for the UC Berkeley Campus Master Plan at the time, she worked on designs of several buildings. This included two endowed by Phoebe Apperson Hearst, William Randolph’s mother. This initiated a long relationship between Morgan and the Hearst’s that spanned over 30 years and included multiple projects on both Hearst Estates as well as several newspaper buildings. Beyond her most famous work on Hearst Castle, Morgan was one of several architects contributing to the Bavarian village themed Wyntoon estate on the Hearst’s 67,000 acre forest property along the McCloud River just south of Mt. Shasta. Outside the broad Patronage of the Hearst family, Morgan did extensive work designing buildings for YWCA (including the Asilomar Conference Center) and several other women’s educational institutions such as Mills College. In all something like 700 buildings in California are attributed to her body of work and much has been done by historians documenting her contribution to the field of architecture.
One final interesting connection between pencils and this story is that the Hearst’s McCloud River area timberland holdings include stands of California Incense-cedar which have historically been harvested and sold by the Hearst Corporation for use in pencil manufacturing. From 1979 to 2003 our company owned and operated a saw mill at McCloud, CA, which was originally established as the McCloud River Lumber Company in 1896. Even before that we were producing pencil stock lumber in our Mt. Shasta City mill from the early 1960s until the early 1990s. The nearby Hearst lands historically provided some portion of the cedar used by both saw mills to produce pencil stock that was then sent on to our slat operations in Stockton to make pencil slats sold to our pencil manufacturing customers. Even though our manufacturing supply chain is designed much differently today, producing slats in China, we still receive some pencil stock we are purchase from other suppliers who buy cedar logs from the Hearst lands. Thus the Hearst property has been participating in some small portion of the pencil industry’s sustainable cedar supply for 50 years or so.